10:35 p.m. 7.Sep.99

Chess Players Stripped Bare by the Scientists, Even
Marisa Newman on Gunther von Hagens' Anatomy Art

Among the rows upon rows of tables with computers ranging from PCs to G3s is an oddity -- a platform that is roped off from the public. It seems surprising that the Brucknerhaus would hold such a traditional type of installation piece. The proverbial velvet rope that has become ubiquitous in the New York nightlife seems antithetical to the Ars Electronica Festival, especially to the open X section. Not only is the platform blocked off, but a sign reads "Verboten," once again keeping the viewer at a safe distance.

The piece grabs one's attention. It is a vitrine scene depicting a chess game. chess playerOn one side of the board, in a frozen moment, is a machine that is about to move the white queen. The opponent is a flayed man whose piercing blue eyes look at the board's position. Yet, when I say "flayed" I use it in its literal sense. The man is stripped of his skin and his brain is exposed. Muscles, tissues and bones are also seen in different positions and configurations.

The title of this piece is the "Chessplayer" and it is under the subtitle of "Anatomy Art." The exhibition name is fitting: the body is disected and seen as an anatomical subject and the whole scene is arranged in an aesthetic, static frame. How fitting to place these two players in the same pose as Duchamp's chess match, held before a shop window, against a naked woman. It is hard to discern who is Duchamp and who is stripped bare. I venture to guess that Duchamp is the machine.

The accompanying sign describes something quite different from what I described. It says that we are seeing a new scientific discovery. It is called "Plastination." Gunther von Hagens is the German anatomist who found a way to preserve tissue by coating it so the specimens retain their original surface relief and cellular identity down to the microscopic level.

Gunther spoke at the LifeScience Symposium and said that his work is not created in the name of art, but rather science. He wants to make the human corpse more readily accessible to the student of science. Medical schools' gross anatomy classes are distancing and disruptive due to the smells, pallid skin and overall disgust. Yet, the "Chessplayer" uses too many artistic tropes to claim "in the name of science."

All of Ars Electronic is concerned with the question of what is art and how to make it a more interactive and hands-on experience. Gunther von Hagens claims he is making science more accessible. Yet, von Hagens's pieces are untouchable and shown as artworks, while the rest of open X is quite tactile. In Linz, art becomes science and vice versa. And is not this precisely a Duchampian moment.